Female-Led Films Outperform at All Budget Levels, Per Research from Creative Artists Agency and shift7

Data Also Indicates That Films That Pass the Bechdel Test, Measuring the Portrayal of Women in Film, Surpass the Box Office of Films That Fail The Test

LOS ANGELES & WASHINGTON--()--Leaders in the promotion of inclusion and equity, global entertainment and sports agency Creative Artists Agency (CAA) and tech-forward innovation company shift7, today announced the findings of research examining the correlation between female-led films and box office success, as well as the box office implications of films that pass the Bechdel Test, a measure of the representation of women in film, television and other works of fiction.

The data analysis looked at the top-grossing U.S. films released between January 2014 to December 2017, and found that female-led films outperformed male-led films at all budget levels.

CAA and shift7 came together through TIME’S UP, where they collaborate in a storytellers’ content-focused working group that works to improve the portrayal of all women in media and entertainment. The group is led by Head of Pascal Pictures and former Chairman of Sony Pictures Amy Pascal, shift7 CEO and 3rd U.S. Chief Technology Officer Megan Smith, and Producer and Founder of 3dot Productions Liza Chasin. The group also includes CAA Agent Alexandra Trustman, actor/advocate Geena Davis, and other prominent women in entertainment. Together, they built upon CAA’s existing database resource and index issued in 2017 that explored the correlation between diverse casting, diverse audiences, and box office success.

The resulting analysis uses box office performance and production budget data for top-grossing films from Gracenote, a Nielsen company. The team examined 350 top grossing films released between 2014 – 2017, for which budget data had been reported in Studio System by Gracenote, the entertainment industry's most trusted information source. Films were categorized into five budget levels: under $10 million, $10 million - $30 million, $30 million - $50 million, $50 million - $100 million, and over $100 million. Within that grouping of 350, they further identified the films that had women listed as the lead actor (e.g., listed first in billing blocks, press notes, or distributor-issued final credits) and found that in every budget level category, films with female leads performed better in worldwide box office averages.

This is powerful proof that audiences want to see everyone represented on screen,” said Pascal. “Decision-makers in Hollywood need to pay attention to this.”

Popularized through a comic strip by Alison Bechdel, the Bechdel Test (bechdeltest.com) is a simple test for the following three criteria: (1) the film has to have at least two women in it; (2) the two women speak to one another in the film; and (3) they speak about something other than a man. When compared by total box office results, the analysis found that films that passed the Bechdel Test outperformed films that failed. Further, the research showed that every film that surpassed $1 billion in global box office also passed the Bechdel Test.

The Bechdel Test is a low bar to clear, and it’s surprising how many movies don’t clear it,” said Chasin. “Understandably, the studios think about the bottom line, so it’s great to see a growing body of data that should make it easier for executives to make more inclusive decisions.”

Smith notes that the issue of inclusion on screen has broader implications for the economy, and that by 2020, America is projected to have two million unfilled jobs in science, technology, engineering, and math. “What we see on screen affects how we see ourselves and each other, and can increase or decrease confidence,” said Smith. “When people who have been traditionally under-represented are stereotyped, or left out of the story entirely, we diminish confidence and deprive people of role models and directly hold back the country’s economic and social potential.”

Academy Award-winning actor and advocate Geena Davis applauds CAA and shift7’s efforts to further the conversation about gender balance in media. “I started commissioning data back in 2004, realizing there is so much unconscious bias in this space. The truth is that seeing women and girls on screen is not only good for everyone – especially our children – it’s also good entertainment and good business,” said Davis, who founded and chairs the research organization The Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media.

This analysis affirms data showing that diversity has a positive impact on a company’s bottom line,” said TIME’S UP President and CEO Lisa Borders. “As studios consider their fiduciary responsibilities to their investors, these findings offer a clear approach to delivering the best results.”

CAA’s Christy Haubegger notes, “Women comprise half the box office, yet there has been an assumption in the industry that female-led films led were generally less successful. We found that the data does not support that assumption."

CAA and shift7’s comprehensive data analysis can be found at https://shift7.com/media-research.


shift7 works collaboratively on systemic problems, scouting and scaling promising solutions and solution-makers, and catalyzing innovation ecosystems. shift7 adds proven tech-forward, open, sharable practices to drive equitable economic, social and environmental progress.


Leading entertainment and sports agency Creative Artists Agency (CAA) represents many of the most successful and innovative professionals working in film, television, music, video games, theatre, and digital content, and provides a range of strategic marketing and consulting services to corporate clients. CAA is also a leader in sports, representing more than 1,700 of the world’s top athletes in football, baseball, basketball, hockey, soccer, tennis, and golf, and works in the areas of broadcast rights, corporate marketing initiatives, licensing, and sports properties for sales and sponsorship opportunities.


Beth McClinton, Creative Artists Agency, Beth.McClinton@caa.com
Susan Alzner, shift7, media@shift7.com


Beth McClinton, Creative Artists Agency, Beth.McClinton@caa.com
Susan Alzner, shift7, media@shift7.com